On the new CW drama series Beauty and the Beast, Catherine Chandler (Smallville’s Kristin Kreuk) is a smart, no-nonsense homicide detective haunted by the murder of her mother, which she witnessed as a teenager. She would have been killed as well, if a mysterious beast hadn’t been there to save her. Years later, a case leads her right to Vincent Keller (Jay Ryan) and possibly some of the answers that she has been waiting for.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, actor Jay Ryan talked about how he came to this role, his crazy chemistry read with co-star Kristin Kreuk, the process of finding the look for the beast, spending four hours to put on the make-up and an hour to take it all off, how he feels about using the same character names as the original Ron Perlman/Linda Hamilton series, whether more beasts might make an appearance, just how physical the role will get, and how he originally came to acting. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to this role? Were you doing the whole pilot season thing?
JAY RYAN: This was the first year in awhile that I was not going to do pilot season. I was shooting a mini-series for Sundance/BBC, called Top of the Lake, that was shot by Jane Campion, who’s a beautiful native New Zealander and famous film director. The role I was playing was very intense, and they shaved half my hair off. So, I looked like this post-apocalyptic character. I was like, “I’m not going to get a job in America, looking like this,” so I just wanted to focus on that job. But, I got a call from my agent saying, “They want you to audition for Beauty and the Beast,” and I thought it was a Disney thing. I said, “I don’t think I’m very Beauty and the Beast, at the moment.” But, they had seen a tape I had done, so they called and asked because they thought I had this quality that they were looking for. So, I read the pilot and realized that it was a very modernized version. And then, when I saw where Vincent’s backstory came from, I was really intrigued. I put down a tape, and then I did several more tapes. They put me through the ringer, being a foreigner. That’s how it came about. I was really lucky that it worked in with my schedule, and Jane Campion was very accommodating and let me do it. I also had this massive beard, so they had to shave that off and make me a fake one for the BBC project. There were a lot of people that had to come together to make it work. It was this close to not working, so I’m very grateful to everyone.
Did you have to do a chemistry read with Kristin Kreuk?
RYAN: I did. They brought me over to L.A. for 24 hours. That was the only amount of time before I had to shoot back in New Zealand. So, I flew over and got off the plane completely jet-lagged after flying in economy like everybody else. I went in and met everybody and I did a read without Kristin. At that time, I didn’t even know she was part of the series. And they said, “Great, you’ll know in an hour, if you’ve got the role.” I thought I had done okay, but I was talking jibberish because my mind was so tired. So, I drove back to L.A. to get on the plane and I hadn’t heard anything. As soon as I got off the plane, I got a call saying, “Get back on the plane.” So, I had to fly all the way back to L.A. to do a chemistry read with Kristin. Because I had my head shaved, the studio made me put this wig on my head for the chemistry read. I had this big, grey, out of the box thing that looked like a big mane on my head. I looked like a mental extra from Braveheart, or something. So, that’s how I met Kristin. Luckily, the chemistry was still there, even with the stupid wig on my head. We got along really well. And then, I got the role two weeks later.
How has it been to work with Kristin Kreuk?
RYAN: We work really well together. What I admire about her is that she’s spent 10 years on this huge show, Smallville, which is syndicated all around the world and she’s just like the people that I like to hang out with. They’re not affected by what they do, or who they think they are. That’s what I love, so I feel like I can just be myself around her.
What has the process of finding the look for the beast been like?
RYAN: It’s been a big process that’s still going. In the pilot, it was about less is more. We didn’t want to give away too much of what the beast looked like. We didn’t want to show too much of him because we didn’t want it to look like a prosthetic mask. We wanted it to look real and intimidating. In the pilot, you see elements and shadows of him, and it’s all seen through Catherine’s point of view, so it’s this blurred vision. I think, as the series progresses, we want to reveal him a little bit and give a little bit more away, of what he does look like, how he moves, how the DNA affects him, and what animal traits he has. We didn’t want him to be too Spiderman-y, or fall into any of these superhero elements because he’s not a superhero. He’s an anti-superhero, really. He doesn’t like what he is, but he finds a way to make good out of it, by helping people with this superhero quality. The look is a mixture of vampire and wolf. He’s got a very animalistic nose, teeth and eyes. We’re really playing with his animal senses. He can see so far away, like an eagle. He has this almighty power, like a rhinoceros. He has this sense of smell. When he’s in his human form, you’ll learn how that affects him. There’s a lot to play with.
How long does it take to get the full make-up on?
RYAN: It takes four hours to get on, and that’s with two make-up artists, and an hour to get off. That’s just the face and the neck. We haven’t discovered what is under the clothes. He has this huge scar, as Vincent. As the performer of it, I believe that this scar comes from a beast on beast attack, since there are other beasts from this military experiment. I don’t know what the writers think, but to me, it feels like it was another claw that came down. Once he disrobes in the series, I want other scars, all over his body, to show how crazy these beasts got before they were killed, to see how the experiment got out of control. Also, we’re talking about his hands because, as the beast is killing or fighting, it’s very Wolverine-esque. It’s a swipe because he has great strength. So, I’ve gotten them to make these claw fingernails because, in the pilot, we didn’t have that. Eventually, we’re going to show what that brings. Also, the writers want to have the DNA of the beast mutate, as the series progresses. He’s going to become more beastly, and his powers are going to become stronger and almost overtake him, to a point.
Is there anything you do to zone out, when you’re getting the make-up put on?
RYAN: I zone out, but I also get to know the make-up artists because I spend a lot of time with them. I’m very vocal about what I want it to look like, as well. As it’s being done, I’m like, “That color is not right,” so that I can guide them along to what I think works. There are a lot of people, though, who have put their opinion in, on my face. But, it’s a hard one to get right because it’s something very new. It’s not the Ron Perlman lion. It’s not the Disney hair thing. It’s a new beast, in itself, and he is a killing machine. To get that right is going to be a challenge.
Were you nervous about using the same character names, as the Ron Perlman/Linda Hamilton TV series?
RYAN: You know, I really love that they kept the character names of Catherine and Vincent because it’s almost like these are the modern versions, in this world that we’re in now, post-9/11. I think it’s a good idea. It’s basically done because we have the same people who own the rights to the show. We’re making Beauty and the Beast for the new generation, but we want to take these elements from the original. We also want to bring in the romantic elements of the original series, as well. Just having the names of Catherine and Vincent is pretty romantic. They bring this nostalgia to it. I know fans of the original will probably get pissed off, if they don’t like the re-imagining that we’re doing because we’ve used the character names, which is fair enough. We’ve got their first names, but we’ve changed the last names. For me, it feels like I’m playing an iconic character, but making it my version and completely different. If his name was Peter, or something, it would just feel like there was no relation to it. So, I like that they kept the names.
Will viewers get to see more beasts?
RYAN: I love that idea. Gary Fleder, who’s the original director of our pilot and who’s a great director, was also an EP on the other Beauty and the Beast pilot that was being made. He shot these amazing scenes on this little 5D camera, that were flashbacks of Vincent getting the steroids and the DNA stuck into him, along with the other soldiers. There was one female, in that line of soldiers, so he mentioned that maybe there will be a female beast that comes along, who had also gotten away. I pitched it to the writers, and I think they like the idea. If it’s in this season, who knows. I hope so. If it’s in the second season, if we get there, then it gives them somewhere else to go. But, I think there are more beasts out there. I also think there’s a lot more to Vincent that he’s not telling Catherine, or anyone else, about what went on and about other beasts. But, for now, there’s just one beast. What drew me to the story is that backstory and where that can go, and that it is set in a moment of reality, as well. Those military tests have been going on since the ‘40s and the ‘50s. There was a doctor who did all of these brain tests on animals, which is being studied for military stuff. So, for me, it’s very much based in reality. I believe this stuff could actually happen, which makes it exciting for me to play.
What’s it been like to explore the relationship between Vincent and Catherine?
RYAN: He lives in hiding and the only female contact he has is with a cop, so there’s this huge element of push and pull and gaining trust. They know they have this connection because he saved her from being assassinated when he mother was because her mother maybe held a key to the cure. It’s interesting because they both want the same things. Vincent wants to go after this company that is chasing him, and he wants to out them and show the travesties of humanity that they’ve done to him and the other soldiers, and Catherine wants the same thing. They’re these two alpha characters who want the same thing, but want to do it in very different ways. Vincent has been in hiding. He knows that he can’t involve the cops. It’s got to be done underhandedly. But, she wants to do it by the law, so there’s this huge clash. It makes for interesting story and conflict. But, because they’re so alike, they’ve got to learn to weave together and find that middle ground to work together.
Do you know how quickly viewers will learn about why Vincent was so interested in Catherine?
RYAN: Yes. In the second episode, it’s brought up and it becomes a huge contention. She wants to know what her mother’s involvement is, in this whole scandal. Her mother was a biologist. That’s a big secret that Vincent holds from her, and the writers aren’t revealing why he’s holding it from her, at the moment. Vincent holds that information from Catherine, and that’s what she’s really after.
Does this role get very physical for you? Do you get to do many of your own stunts?
RYAN: Because there’s a lot of swiping and a lot of it is shot in silhouette, there are big, heavy movements. But, I’ve trained in physical theater, so I love bringing that physical element to the beast. I’m very specific about how the beast moves and what that should be. Our new director, Rick Bota, is very much into supernatural monsters, and shooting all of that great stuff. He did it in the ‘80s. He learned how to light monsters, and light the faces and make the make-up look real and grotesque. He’s very much into that genre. He wants to use wires and show how far the beast can jump, and really have a unique way that he moves. That will be fun. Hopefully, I won’t hurt myself.
Do you feel the pressure, in being the lead of a show, and being one of the faces that’s out there on posters and billboards?
RYAN: I don’t feel any pressure. For me, because I haven’t been a part of this Hollywood circuit so much, I don’t think about it. It’s all about the work. I just want to get into making the show. However they market it is up to them. It’s their product. They sell it. I’m part of that product, I guess, but I just do what I want to do with it. There’s this whole thing about, “Oh, you’re too good-looking to play a beast.” Sure, that’s what they were after and that’s what they cast, but I’m very much about being true to what a beast can be. For me, his beast is on the inside. It’s not about the physical. It’s about the demon that is within him. It’s quite opposite to what the beast usually is. Everyone thinks the beast should be this creature, but beasts don’t advertise. You don’t know who a beast is. The nicest looking person can be that serial killer, or whatever. They’re more dangerous to me. It’s more relatable to an audience to deal with the beast within us.
What originally got you interested in acting? Was it something you had just always wanted to do?
RYAN: I was a very hyper-active child and my parents just didn’t know what to do with me. My family aren’t performers. They’re just normal people. They don’t understand this entertainment world. They just think it’s mental. They have no idea what I’m doing in America. They just think their son has gone crazy. I think it was to get me to exert energy. They got me into theater really young, and I loved being able to take on the persona of other people. I felt more comfortable playing other people than being myself, when I was a kid. And then, the tables turned. Through my performances, I’ve become more comfortable with who I am, and then I just bring more of myself into the people that I play.
Beauty and the Beast airs on Thursday nights on The CW.